Don't tell anyone, but I've never taken a women's studies class. I knew Dworkin was a controversial figure and anti-pornography activist, but not much more than that. Unfortunately, she turned me a bit against her in the first couple of chapters, with sentiments like:
It was her voice that was the blues. When her voice wasn't blues, it meant the heroin had dragged her way down and she couldn't go any lower. "Strange Fruit" was worth anything it took from her, and so was "God Bless the Child." I'm not happy with art as necrophilia, but I think these two songs, and "Strange Fruit" in particular, were worth her life. They'd be worth mine. p.8
Nowadays librarians actively try to get students Internet access to pornography, at least in the United States. Organized as a First Amendment lobby group, librarians go to court—or their professional organizations do—to defend pornographers and pornography. p.34
In case it's not obvious to you why these quotes are problematic in general, or to me in particular, the first one strikes me as selfish, dehumanizing, and racist. Like Billie Holiday's suffering was for the greater good. I believe Dworkin identified as an anarchist, but the idea that a song about lynching could so move a white girl that it would be worth the African-American singer's life is really twisted. The librarians one is a blatant distortion; I hope the difference between actively pursuing porn access in libraries vs. and not wanting inadequate and expensive filtering (or censoring, depending on your point of view) software on their computers is clear, no matter where you stand on porn. Then again, you can't blame Dworkin for not trusting librarians after this experience in her high school library:
The librarians treated the books like contraband, and so did I. My friends and I had a commitment to Catcher in the Rye, which was not allowed in the library. We bought a lot of copies over time. We shelved them. Each time it would be a different one of us who had the responsibility from getting the book into the library, on the shelves. Sometimes we catalogued the book—what was gained if no one knew it was there?—and other times we shelved it as if it were plastique. p.36
But I softened up and began to like her more as she got into feminist issues. Do I have to like a person to enjoy her memoir? Probably. Anyway, here's a quote I found fascinating:
There was one day when all my schoolmates and I knew we were going to die. [The Cuban Missile Crisis] … In the back of the school bus all the girls gathered in a semicircle. We talked about the sadness of dying virgins, though some of us weren't. We spoke with deep regret, like old people looking back on our lives; we enumerated all that we had not managed to do, the wishes we had, the dreams that were unfulfilled. No one talked about getting married. Children came up in passing. p.55-56
And here's one I really related to:
In an equivalent test on female sexuality, she had this true-or-false statement for extra credit of twenty points: if a girl is not a virgin when she gets married, she will go to hell. I was the only student in my class not to get the extra twenty points. p.66
In elementary school I was definitely the kind of kid who would get something like that "wrong" on purpose, because of a principle. I'm not sure if I was still that person in high school, but probably. But aside from the righteousness of the quote that I admire, this incident gave me a shocking window into what second wave feminists were rebelling against. That could never have happened in my childhood. And it's not like she grew up in the bible belt. This incident took place in New Jersey, the same state I lived in from 2nd-9th grade, and just over twenty years earlier.
The general style of the book is atypical. It's semi-linear, with chapters grouped more by theme than by year. She gives the reader staccato glimpses into her life and what formed and then drove her. I look forward to reading a biography one day to get the rest of it.